For Christ-followers the gospel is everything. Without the incarnation, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ of Nazareth we are, as Paul said, of all men most miserable. Apart from the reality of the gospel message our joy is a sham, our hope is in vain, and our message is nothing more than hot air. These are not controversial statements. They would be readily, even vociferously, affirmed by every true believer—yet affirmation alone is not enough.
Some of these believers, though committed to the primacy of the gospel, seem in practice to view it as little more than the entrance condition of eternal life. All those who, when presented with the gospel message, believe its truth and profess its claims, will be set on the road that leads to heaven. The gospel, they think, is Christianity 101, the essential prerequisite for everything that follows. Now this of course is quite correct as far as it goes—but such a view, by itself, is insufficient. The gospel is indeed the only hope that any of us have of eternal life. If our Christian life does not begin with the gospel then the life we have begun is not Christian in the first place. Yet the gospel is much more than a golden ticket for unbelievers. The gospel, if we are to give it due place, must shape more than our evangelism.
Others take a different view. They realize that the gospel message must be more than a doorway onto a life that remains largely unaffected by that gospel. So strongly, in fact, do they believe in the responsibility to shape their lives by the gospel that they tend, at least in practice, to see the gospel largely in terms of a particular lifestyle. For them the gospel provides the boundary markers of genuine Christianity. It tells them what to wear, where to go, what to say and how to say it. Once again, this view of the gospel does get many things right. The gospel must indeed shape every aspect of the way that we live. Yet the gospel is more than a set of boundary markers, setting limits on what we ought and ought not do. The gospel, if it is to viewed in all of its majesty, must shape more than our lifestyle on earth.
The gospel is the foundation of the Christian life. The gospel does set boundaries on our lifestyle. Yet the gospel is more than a golden ticket and it is more than a checklist. It is intended to be the paradigm, the glasses if you will, through which we view all of reality. It is, as Paul Washer reminds us, the A through Z of the Christian life. It is the beginning, it is the end, and it is absolutely everything in between. It is both all that we have and all that we could ever need.
The gospel is the in-breaking of the new creation, the dawning in our hearts of a light that ought to transform the way we look at absolutely everything. To see the gospel only as a golden ticket or even as a set of boundaries is to constrain the power of the gospel to the categories to which we choose to apply it. Left unchecked long enough, these limitations will reduce the gospel to a servant of agendas that have little to do with the power of the new creation. When the gospel instead becomes our paradigm, it transforms our questions as well as our answers and defines our problems as well as our solutions—unleashing in our fallen world the earth-shaking power of the risen Lord.
So great, in fact, is the transforming glory of the gospel that it is impossible for finite creatures like us to ever fully appreciate it. The journey of conforming ourselves to that glory is one that will never come to completion, even in heaven. The wonder of what God has done for His people in Christ Jesus our Lord cannot be exhausted. There will always, though our ability to comprehend grow ten-thousand fold, be more of His goodness than there is of our understanding. This is the true place of the gospel in the life of the believer. This is what it means to say that the gospel is everything. Is that the place it has in your life today?